Who Would’ve Thought It Figures by Eric Wallgren
Growing up, there’s this dumpy room in my parents’ basement with a ripped up couch and a T.V. that I watch too much of. Mostly I watch Nickelodeon, but one day I go down there and I see something else that blows my mind. There’s this woman in a car with three of her identical friends. Four of her. Why is there four of her? The one in the back draws with her fingertips. The one riding shotgun hangs out the car window—fucking crazy—and the one driving, she sings. The song is “Ironic.” And the duplicated woman is Alanis Morissette. I’m six years old and I’ve just come across my new obsession.
“Ironic,” I learn, is a music video. And this channel, MTV, is like a river of them that flows day after day, hour after hour. There’s this one where these guys are rocking out by a pool and there’s a bunch of girls swimming and wearing glitter (Red Hot Chili Peppers “Aeroplane”), one where this woman is at the movies with her friends and they all start throwing popcorn at each other (Fugees “Killing Me Softly”), one where this funny-looking guy with white make-up and pinprick eyes keeps going up the screen and smiling (Marilyn Manson “Sweet Dreams”). It’s all so fascinating, but not that first high, and when I flip on MTV, always, I’m looking for “Ironic.” I see it and I breathe in every word, every scenario: the free ride when you’ve already paid, the no smoking sign on your cigarette break, Mr. Play It Safe, afraid to fly, who goes ahead and dies in a plane crash. They all become my most insightful paradoxes.
Sometimes I watch with Patrick, this kid from two doors down that’s just a grade above me in school. I tell him I like “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt and he tells me they have this other video, “Just a Girl,” that’s also good. I don’t know if I should believe him—because he lies a lot, and about the most random shit—but then, sure enough, I see the video and it’s real. “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” comes on, and he tells me that the guy they show talking in the middle of the song is Biggie; he was a rapper, but he’s dead now, and a friend of Puff Daddy’s. Turns out, that one’s also true.
Patrick and I watch the whole video for Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” just because there’s a man painted green at the very end who puffs out his cheeks in a way we think is funny. We really like this video “Breathe” by The Prodigy, which has centipedes and two of the wildest looking people I’ve ever seen. And one day when a number flashes on the screen, we try calling in to request it. But over and over we get put on hold, and when Patrick finally seems to make our request, I know he’s just mimicking the call and that he isn’t actually reaching MTV. So the video never plays. But we love those shots with the centipedes.
Around this time, I notice that “Ironic” doesn’t seem to play on MTV anymore: my first taste of what it means to love a song and then lose it from heavy rotation. This is before downloading, and before I’m old enough to buy CDs with my own money. It’s a loss I should just accept, but I haven’t figured this out yet. I keep watching MTV, all Matchbox 20 and Spice Girls now, and no “Ironic.” Like ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife.
But I move on. Hanson comes along and I’m so into it that I go as Zach for Halloween that year. I buy their CD, and it’s the first CD I ever buy, but nothing I see or hear gets me the way “Ironic” did. And I don’t think it’s just me who thinks that from this point onward—in the TRL era—MTV gets plain boring in all that gloss. So I move on. And even if it’s not that song—even when I’m fifteen and listening to My Bloody Valentine for two weeks straight because I just discovered them and just discovered weed—it’s the “Ironic” feeling that I’m chasing, from when I walked into the basement and a whole world that opened up to me.
About the Author:
Eric Wallgren lives in Chicago, His writing has appeared in Entropy,
Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Fanzine, Clash Media, and elsewhere. He’s online
at ericwallgren.tumblr.com. Also he makes music at